Published: 18:13, June 12, 2024 | Updated: 18:24, June 12, 2024
Japan probes auto safety scandal
By Jiang Xueqing in Tokyo

A Toyota highlander hybrid SUV is displayed at the Geneva International Motor Show (GIMS)at the Doha Exhibition and Convention Center in Doha on Oct 7, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Incorrect certification testing found to affect more than 5 million vehicles as government inspects headquarters of major firms

A car safety testing scandal in Japan has raised concerns about legal compliance and corporate governance after five of the country’s vehicle makers admitted to improperly obtaining the certification needed for mass production.

On June 3, it was revealed that auto firms, including Toyota and Mazda, had carried out safety tests in ways not approved by the Japanese government, meaning they had incorrectly been given model certifications before being sold.

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism requested 85 vehicle and equipment makers to carry out internal investigations in January and February, following certification fraud issues at Daihatsu Motor, Toyota’s small-car unit

Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism requested 85 vehicle and equipment makers to carry out internal investigations in January and February, following certification fraud issues at Daihatsu Motor, Toyota’s small-car unit.

Some 68 companies completed and submitted their investigations, revealing fraudulent activities at five firms — Toyota, Mazda, Honda, Suzuki, and Yamaha Motor. The fraud affects 38 models, including discontinued ones, totaling more than 5 million vehicles.

ALSO READ: Japan govt inspects Honda headquarters over vehicle test fraud

Japan’s transport ministry began onsite inspections of the headquarters of the five companies. The ministry said it will assess the circumstances and severity of their misconduct to determine whether administrative sanctions are necessary.

A reduction in vehicle production stemming from safety test fraud discovered at Daihatsu Motor last year weighed heavy on the Japanese economy, which shrank at an annualized rate of 1.8 percent in the first quarter of this year from the previous three months.

The recent discovery of falsified certification tests may cast a shadow on Japan’s economic recovery in the second quarter, experts said.

The issue may slow the pace of economic normalization through May and June, Chief Economist at Mizuho Research & Technologies Saisuke Sakai told The Nikkei, the largest financial newspaper in Japan.

ALSO READ: Japanese authorities inspect Toyota HQ over certification irregularities

On June 6, Toyota and Mazda halted production of a total of five vehicle models that were found to have been improperly tested.

Experts said that the impact could be prolonged as the two firms have more than 3,000 second-tier and subsequent suppliers between them.

Kota Yuzawa, a research analyst at Goldman Sachs, told The Nikkei that governance needs to be further strengthened regarding legal compliance.

Consumers expressed different views on how differences between corporate standards and national standards should be handled.

“It’s fine for each company to set their own standards but they should also evaluate their products in accordance with national standards,” said Mitsuo Mita, a 22-year-old political science major in Tokyo.

ALSO READ: Japan auto safety scandal widens, Toyota halts some shipments

He believes that the data from both evaluations should be made available to the public.

“Some people might want to see the testing standards of individual companies like Mazda, while others might want to see the national standards. Therefore, both sets of data should be tested and disclosed to consumers,” Mita said.

In his opinion, changing the national standards all at once would affect all machinery and the economy. Some smaller companies would not be able to keep up, he said.

Therefore, the large companies at fault such as Toyota should take responsibility and align their standards with the national ones, Mita said.

 “If there are national standards, it’s better to follow those because the government has carefully considered and established these standards,” said Kazuhi Ukita, a resident of Saitama prefecture.

ALSO READ: Toyota tightens oversight over scandal-hit small car unit Daihatsu

“For those who drive, it gives peace of mind to follow the national standards,” Ukita added.

According to him, the real question is whether it is more reassuring to follow national standards or independent standards set by companies, as people want to choose the safest option.

“It’s not the government that’s making the cars. There are many things that only car manufacturers understand, and they conduct their own research more than the government does,” Ukita said.

“The best approach is for the government and automakers to coordinate and align their views on safety standards. It’s not about one side deciding but about discussing and aligning opinions,” he added.

READ MORE: Toyota halts shipment of some vehicles over certification issues

Junko Watanabe, a 51-year-old Tokyo resident, said some auto manufacturers have been following even stricter standards than the national ones but these firms have been punished anyway.

Penalties were imposed on those companies simply because they did not adhere to the national standards during the tests required to obtain model certification, Watanabe said.

“Japan is a conservative country that strictly follows many rules. If something is mandated by the government, it is considered the top priority,” Watanabe explained.

“I think the national standards should be reconsidered,” she added.